Philippians 2:6: Is Jesus Equal to the Father?
Summary of this Study
“6 Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (ESV).
Trinitarians believe this verse states that Jesus is God. But it says, “was in the form of God.”
Most Trinitarians wrongly interpret this verse to teach equality. But the verse states, “did not count equality with God.”
Finally, the word “grasped” as found in most Trinitarian translations has no support from the Greek. The underlying Greek word (ἁρπαγμὸν) is only found once in the Bible. Because of this, a definition can only be obtained from other Greek writings during this time period. Based on these writings, this word never means “grasped.” The word “grasped” is a substitute for a problematic word that will be covered.
Please continue reading as we expand on this summary.
“Who, though he was in the form of God”
Existing “in the form of God” is not the same as being the God the “form” represents. Being in the form or configuration of someone is not being that actual person. Children are in the form of their parents but are not their parents. Simply put —Jesus is not God in this verse.
Separately, 2 Corinthians 4:4 teaches that Jesus “is the image of God” and in Colossians 1:15, Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” These verses confirm that Jesus is not the same God that the form represents.
The Meaning of the Word “Form”
The meaning of the Greek word “form” (μορφῇ) is disputed within this verse by Trinitarians because it does not make Jesus God. The word “form” is found two additional times (Mark 16:12, Philippians 2:7) in the New Testament. This word consistently means “outward appearance,” or “shape,” etc., (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 659, 2000), and never means essence.
The Septuagint which is the Greek Old Testament used by Jesus contains this word six times (Job 4:16; Daniel 4:33, 5:6, 9, 10, 7:28). The word never means “essence.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, strikingly concludes, “The term always refers to the exterior, to that in man which may be seen.” (Emphasis is my own, Gerhard Kittel and Gerard Friedrich, 4.746, 1964, Logos Bible Software).
Because the word “form” is difficult for Trinitarians, some scholars claim ambiguity and then assign a more favorable definition. The Word Biblical Commentary, Philippians says, “In view of the objections to these four options, perhaps the best approach to the meaning of μορφή, ‘form,’ is (a) to admit that it is a word whose precise meaning is elusive…”
The book continues and assigns a Trinitarian definition: “This somewhat enigmatic expression, then, appears to be a cautious, hidden way for the author to say that Christ was God, possessed of the very nature of God” (Word Biblical Commentary, Philippians, Gerald Hawthorne and Ralph Martin, 2004, Olive Tree Bible Software, commentary on Philippians 2:6a).
The exegetical form of biblical interpretation forbids the addition of theologically charged presuppositions. Instead, it seeks to understand the authors historical intended meaning.
Every Trinitarian Bible commentary consulted, implicitly or explicitly made Jesus the same God or equal in essence to His Father.
The Baker Exegetical Commentary, Philippians, writes, “Käsemann, as we have noticed, was absolutely right in emphasizing that being ‘in the form of God’ is equivalent to being ‘equal with God.’…” (Moises Silva, 101, 2nd edition, 2005, Logos Bible Software). This commentary calls itself exegetical when another Trinitarian author’s opinion sets the standard.
The Letter to the Philippians Commentary writes: “If we conclude that the form of God means the glory of God and that the glory of God is intimately related with the being of God, then we will also conclude that the phrase existing in the form of God points to Christ’s being in very nature God (TNIV)” (G. Walter Hansen, 138, 2009).
This commentary is built on the assumption, “if we conclude.” “Front-loading” presuppositions into the Bible is called eisegesis.
Another commentary writes:
“On the basis of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, his earliest followers had come to believe that the One whom they had known as truly human had himself known prior existence in the ‘form’ of God—not meaning that he was ‘like God but really not’ but that he was characterized by what was essential to being God. This understanding (correctly) lies behind the NIV’s in very nature God” (Philippians, Gordon D. Fee 93, 1999).
If the early followers of Christ considered Jesus to be the same God as the Father, it would be unnecessary for these commentaries to weave such fabrications. The Bible should define one’s theology, not one’s theology the Bible.
“Did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” Philippians 2:6b
There are at two significant questions before us. Was Jesus equal to God the Father, and what is the meaning behind the English word “grasped” used in most translations? A careful reading will indicate that Jesus did not count equality with God.
Here are two translations of 2:6b:
“Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (ESV).
“Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (NASB).
Starting with the ESV, most Trinitarians read this verse to say, “[Jesus] did count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (ESV). But the verse again says that “[Jesus] did not count equality” (ESV).
This can be confirmed by an examination of the Greek text. It contains a negative adverb (οὐχ) that is properly translated as “did not” as found in most translations.
When we zoom out and consider the context, we are to have the humility of Christ who could have violently robbed God to become equal, but instead took on humility:
“5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [robbed], 7 but [in contrast] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Php 2:5–7).
The Trinitarian understanding of this verse is illogical. We allegedly are to have the humility of Christ who was already fully God and remained fully God.
In contrast, this verse teaches that Jesus is the role model of humility that we are to emulate. Jesus is commending for not violently seizing equality with God.
The Greek word behind the English word “grasped” (harpagmos) is “robbery.”
The Greek word “harpagmos” is only found once in the Bible, and is not used in the Greek Septuagint of the Old Testament. Therefore, the meaning of this word has to be acquired from writings outside the Bible.
The most respected biblical Greek lexicon of our day is probably A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature also know as “BDAG.” This lexicon, like most, if not all mainline Hebrew and Greek dictionaries/lexicons were formulated by Trinitarian scholars. For this word, they write, “rare in non-biblical Greek; not found at all in the Greek translations of the Old Testament; in our literature only in Philippians 2:6” (133).
The first half of the meaning that follows is correct based on word usage outside the Bible:
“① a violent seizure of property, robbery (s. ἁρπάζω; Plut., Mor. 12a; Vett. Val. 122, 1; Phryn., Appar. Soph.: Anecd. Gr. I 36. Also Plut., Mor. 644a ἁρπασμός),”
But the sentence continues and strikingly writes, “which is next to impossible in Phil 2:6 (W-S. §28, 3: the state of being equal with God cannot be equated with the act of robbery)” (133).
But wait a minute, the verse does not say that Jesus was equal with God! Jesus did not commit robbery to make Himself equal with God!
The ESV again states, “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (but it should be robbed).
So the rationale provided by BDAG for dismissing the correct meaning of this word displays extraordinary theological bias.
This Lexicon goes on to provide two additional definitions. But both meanings are from different Greek words not found in the Bible. This is an outrage.
BDAG Instead, could have covered the verbal form of the word “robbery” which is found 14 times in the New Testament (Matthew 11:12, 12:29, 13:19, John 6:15, 10:12, 28, 29, Acts 8:39, 23:10, Jude 23, 2 Corinthians 12:2, 3, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Revelation 12:5). They did not because the verbal form of this word usually means some kind of violent seizure.
According to BDAD, the two primary meanings of the Greek word “robbery” in the verbal form is “to make off with someone’s property by attacking or seizing, steal, carry off, drag away” or “to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch/take away” (2000, 3rd ed., p. 134).
The King James Version's Translation of Philippians 2:6
The old and new KJV’s versions have a translation of this verse unlike any other.
It says, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (NKJV).
This version states that Jesus did not consider it robbery to already possess equality with God. But there are some serious problems with this translation. On a practical level, if Jesus was equal, what is the point of Him not considering this robbery?
Secondly, and more importantly, while the KJV is commended for being the only major translation to use the word “robbery,” they deceitfully inserted one word into the verse that is not found in the Greek that totally changed the meaning of this verse.
Let me give you an example with two sentences.
“He did not consider it robbery to assume the throne”
This person assumed the throne and did not consider it robbery to do so. Now, the second sentence is identical, except it removes the word “it.”
“He did not consider robbery to assume the throne.”
Now this person would not even consider the act of robbing to assume the throne.
So the addition of the word “it” changed the meaning of the sentence by 180 degrees.
The word “it” in KJV’s is a theologically motivated insertion to make Jesus already possessed equality with God.
So where did the KJV of 1611 get the word “it”? The Trinitarian translators of the KJV of 1611 were influenced by an existing English translation at the time called the Tyndale Bible (1526). Here is the verse with their original spelling: “6 Which beynge in the shape of god and thought it not robbery to be equall with god.”
The following further collaborates the insertion of the word “it”:
Here is an NKJV interlinear from Logos Bible Software. Please notice how the word “it” was placed under the Greek word “ἁρπαγμὸν” (“robbery”). But the Greek word robbery does not mean “it robbery.” In fact, we covered earlier that the Greek the word “did not” (οὐχ) modifies the word “robbery” to concretely state that robbery did not occur for Jesus to make Himself equal with God but instead humbled Himself as we are to emulate.
The Trinitarian book, Putting Jesus in His Place, makes a compelling admission, “The rendering ‘did not consider it robbery to be equal with God’ (nkjv, following the kjv), which has the least support among biblical scholars today, would mean that Christ was equal with God and did not think that he had taken that status wrongfully” (Robert Bowman, 84, 2007).
While Mr. Bowman concedes that KJV’s have the least support, the book goes on to minimizes the admission, by stating, “his rightful status of equality with God.”
In conclusion, a consideration of a passage’s context is extremely important in biblical interpretation.
Philippians 2:6 is part of a three-verse sentence. So the flow of verse five continues into verse 6. The flow of verse six continues into verse seven. So a correct understanding of verse six will be in harmony with verses five and seven.
In the preceding verses, as we discussed already, Paul encouraged the Philippians Christians to have the same humility demonstrated by Jesus Christ.
Our target verse describes how Christ existed in the form of God. This is confirmed because He did not consider a violent seizure to make Himself equal with God.
The next verse begins with “but” and informs us how Christ humbled Himself instead.
May God bless you as you follow God’s anointed Messiah to His Father’s house.
Biblical Unitarian links for research on Philippians 2:6.